Why Community Change Starts With Us

March 10, 2017 /

By Diana Cisneros

I am part of a community that is currently stricken by fear. Political tensions have changed the reality that many individuals face in Kern County and transformed their realities into terrorizing nightmares.

As I traveled to Modesto to attend the first World Meeting of Popular Movements to be held in the United States, an annual gathering of global social justice leaders and grass-roots community representatives who advocate for workers’ rights, housing and environmental justice, I had plenty of time to reflect on the issues in my own Bakersfield community and prepare myself to fight for my people.

My personal “pelea” centers on the advocacy for affordable healthcare and an urgent need for immigration reform. My neighbors and my familia serve as protagonists of their own narrative, but the story they tell isn’t one that entertains; it elicits a cry for help.

During a time when social injustices predominate and oppress vulnerable populations, it has been difficult for me not to feel hopeless and numb. I have found myself incredulous of what is going on in our country and often feel unable to think, unable to act — herein fell my spiritual needs.

The invitation to attend WMPM as a youth participant came at the right time and I was excited for the opportunity to learn and grow as a leader.

I arrived to Modesto, full of hope and seeking to find spiritual support and encouragement. What I found was invaluable. Never in my life did I imagine that I would sit side by side with brothers and sisters from all over the world: Haiti, Uganda, Michigan, Texas, Hawaii, Arizona, North Dakota, and various regions in California. Nor could I have imagined that I would immediately identify with the pain and suffering of others, and I’d embrace others while we cried. We collectively shared our stories, pain, and fight.

The leaders presented on their enduring struggles for the issues they have committed to, which protect human dignity, and called for continued advocacy.

As I listened to what the leaders had to share, I felt some embarrassment.

I am passionate about the issues I care about, but how am I actively working to fight back and challenge current conditions? I’m not.

Although this realization made me uncomfortable, it challenged me and caused me to step back and ask myself “What more should I be doing?” Since attending WMPM, I decided that from here on, I’d actively work to disrupt oppression and dehumanization to protect families and communities. I will work toward making my community a safe place for everyone, by asking local clergy to open their doors as sanctuary for those unjustly targeted. I will work to ensure political power reflects our communities, by holding officials accountable and encouraging community members to be civically engaged. And I will continue to tell the stories of my community.

As a youth participant who was provided the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend this conference, it is my responsibility to bring back the experience and gained knowledge to share with my community.

I am no longer numb; I am awakened mentally/emotionally, spiritually and physically. I wasn’t aware of the physical handicap I had been experiencing that resulted from my fear.

As a person of faith, I learned that I had only been praying on my knees, not on my feet. I am now empowered and have the confidence to answer the cries of not only my community, but global cries as well.

This is our fight; we all must work together, now more than ever, and stay loud for the vulnerable communities being unjustly targeted.

My hope for the future is that collectively, we are able to recognize that our individual struggles are not isolated incidents and that we are all in this fight together. Humanity absolutely has the capacity to build bridges over differences, empathize and unite. It starts with us!

A wave of disruptions for positive changes is coming. La lucha continua.

Diana Cisneros is a graduate student at the University of Southern California and a youth reporter for South Kern Sol youth media.

This story was previously published by The Bakersfield Californian and Latino Times